Pat Lam is a half-full glass type of Kiwi.
Positive and passionate, the incoming Connacht coach, who has been a longtime advocate for the sport of rugby, is now just as enthusiastic about his new “adventure” in Ireland.
“People talk about Galway being vibrant, Mate, you feel it when you go around the city, particularly when it comes to Connacht Rugby,” he says. “ There are the colours everywhere and kids wearing jerseys, and that’s a big tick to what has gone before, and particularly over the last couple of years and the work that Eric and others have done.”
Having played in the Northern Hemisphere for Newcastle and Northampton, where he captained the side to Heineken Cup honours, Lam and his family are well used to moving where the game dictates. His wife Steph and four of his five children, Bryson (18 ), Nelana (16 ), Josiah (13 ) and Bethany (6 ) - only the eldest Michigan (21 ) has remained in New Zealand where he is studying at university - are using this settling-in time to find a home, enroll in schools, and naturally enough join a rugby club. Josiah has already attended training at Galwegians where he is playing alongside the son of assistant coach Dan McFarland.
Although Lam’s rugby heart lies in Auckland where he was born of Samoan parents, he says it is not difficult to put everything into his new role now he understands what the province is about.
"If you don't know the vision, you will struggle. It's more than just a game. That's where the passion comes in. You are there for the people, the province, and how much it means to people. Once you understand that, then you are willing to give it everything, but you need to know where you are heading first and foremost."
Lam is grateful to Eric Elwood for this period of transition before officially taking over the coaching reins on June 1.
"It's a mark of the man. His blood is Connacht and this is an unusual situation, but it is possible because everyone believes it is best for Connacht Rugby. Eric and myself only met for the first time this week, but the key thing is that we have total respect for each other and what each has achieved. We have a real passion for Connacht to succeed and we love the game of rugby."
Peace of Mind
Although sacked from the Blues job after a poor season last year, Lam, a man of faith, looked at the positive.
" I joined a lot of top coaches around the world to be sacked, and I said to my kids, 'exciting times, God has a new adventure for us.
“I have a lot of belief in what I am called to do, a lot of belief in who I am, but I am only as good as what is around me. Head coaches will always be in the firing line, but I define my success straight from John Wooden [American basketball coach] who defined success as having peace of mind knowing you did everything you could to be the best at that particular moment.”
As a result Lam, despite an emotional farewell to the Blues, had peace of mind when he finished the season.
“Times on the mountain top are only enjoyed from being in the valley. My greatest satisfaction from last year, through all the turmoil, was that the team was united as a group. The beauty about it - the learnings from that, is that now they spent half a million more in the budget - all on the back of what happened.”
Lam has already taken a role in helping to build next year’s Connacht squad, including the signing of lock Craig Clarke who is a direct replacement for the Leinster-bound Mike McCarthy. He says the Waikato captain is an “astute signing”, a class player and leader which is crucial.
“The majority of the squad is here - like everyone and us in particular, we are faced with budget constraints, but again I look at what we have. We don’t have a Brian O’Driscoll, but we have an Eoin Griffin, a Dave McSharry. What are their strengths, who are they as people, what can they bring to the team, and I go right through the team and then make sure they continue to develop, play well with heart, and then they put themselves in contention over here.
“The real key is about the here and now. It’s about making sure these guys perform week-in week-out - your only currency is your performance, but it’s not just rocking up for the game, but day to day. You are going to lose your Johnny O’Connor, Adrian Flavin, Mike McCarthy, but it’s ensuring we are playing in an environment to attract players, someone like Craig Clarke, and Mate, if they were not doing anything here, he wouldn’t be coming.”
As a player Lam led by example, and that is mirrored in his coaching philosophy that is built on team spirit.
"Rugby is the greatest team game ever," he enthuses. "All our goals, both players and fans, are only achievable with the team. I like to focus on what we do have, not what we don’t have. We have no current internationals next season compared to the other three provinces and we are not the most resourced compared to others, but what we do have here is a history of fighting for everything. We come from a history of being the underdog. We have no rock stars and we rely on each other and that's ultimately why we play rugby - every week it comes back to heart and playing as a team," he says. “It’s about relationships, fostering team spirit, and then training the whole athlete - not just the rugby skills, but it’s the mental, it’s the heart, it’s the emotional.
"When you look at Connacht they are punching above their weight, but a lot has gone on behind the scenes to establish that. We need to keep that momentum going and my role is to make sure this team is giving everything it can to be as successful as it can - to give heart and soul to ensure we have the best chance of winning."